Modified: October 28, 2019 9:24am
Created: October 28, 2019 9:24am
By rushing projects & bypassing bid laws, millions of dollars in reimbursements may be in jeopardy
Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr. released an audit that reviewed Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) reimbursement claims for road projects by the Erie County Department of Public Works,’ and how that department managed state funding reimbursements. The audit found bid requirements and bid laws were largely ignored.
This poor management practice has put the county at risk of losing $3.8 million in CHIPS reimbursement funding. In what appears to be an effort to rush road projects, the audit found the County of Erie did not properly put projects that exceed $250,000 out to public bid and solicit a Request for Proposal (RFP) in order to guarantee the lowest cost for taxpayers.
“Rules are rules, especially when it comes to public bid law. Road projects that exceed $250,000 must be put out to bid, per guidelines. My Audit Division found that in 2018, DPW sidestepped the bidding process for eight large road projects. Worst case scenario is New York State claws back the CHIPS funding because DPW did not follow guidelines. This puts millions of county dollars at risk. If New York State decided to review this and crack down on Erie County, almost $4 million could be forfeited,” said Comptroller Mychajliw.
Under normal circumstances, if Erie County properly put projects that exceed $250,000 out to public bid, then it could receive state reimbursement for the work, up to a certain budgeted amount.
Instead of putting the eight projects out to public bid and solicit RFPs to obtain the lowest possible cost for road work, the Department of Public Works quickly and improperly bypassed an open bid process by selecting companies through what is known as the “bid book.” This practice is improper for CHIPS projects over $250,000 and could potentially have prevented even lower bids for work completed.
The public bidding process is designed to ensure transparency with public projects. The eight projects that exceed $250,000 should have been bid out through the RFP process that is used regularly by municipalities. Instead, according to the audit, DPW used bid books, which basically allowed them to piggyback on an existing project to pay for the equipment and materials needed for those eight projects.
“Because of this sloppy process we will never know if taxpayers got the best price for road work. New York State set strict guidelines for its CHIPS program. It is black and white: projects costing more than $250,000 must be bid out. DPW clearly did not follow those guidelines. They did not publicly bid these eight projects. These were significant projects in size, scope and cost. The largest project cost more than $831,000. The second largest totaled $672,583, far more than the minimum requirement,” added Comptroller Mychajliw.
The audit includes complete details of the breakdown of costs. The eight road projects included in the scope of the audit, which totaled $3,824,191.12, were:
- Route 240/Glenwood in the Town of Concord - $831,570.34
- Dodge Road in the Town of Amherst - $338,736.89
- Lakeview Road in the Town of Hamburg - $505,515.72
- Zimmerman Road in the Town of Boston - $290,580.62
- Bullis Road in the Town of Elma - $388,299.78
- Girdle Road in the Town of Elma - $377,937.45
- Holland-Glenwood Road in the Town of Colden - $418,966.80
- Vaughn Street in the Town of Concord - $672,583.52
As part of its audit, the Comptroller’s Office conferred with Joseph D. Rossi, Esq., Attorney – Division of Legal Affairs for the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT). He referred to Highway Law Section 10-C, Sub-Section 4(e) that states:
“Whenever the estimate for the construction contract work exceeds two hundred fifty thousand dollars such work must be performed by contract let by competitive bid in accordance with the provisions of section one hundred three of the general municipal law.”
In an email with the Deputy Comptroller of Audit and Control, Mr. Rossi states: “without additional guidance, the plain meaning of the words in the statute govern, and must be strictly construed.”
Comptroller Mychajliw concluded, “The findings of our audit are clear: Erie County violated Highway Law and sidestepped a very clear policy concerning public bid laws for projects totaling more than $250,000. This is a mistake that should not happen ever again in county government.”
The audit examined the period from January 1, 2018 to December 21, 2018. The findings from that audit have warranted a warning to DPW to review all projects, planned for 2019 and previously submitted for reimbursement, for compliance with NYSDOT CHIPS guidelines, and initiate corrective action.
For a PDF of the audit, please CLICK HERE.
For Appendix A, CLICK HERE.
For Appendix B, CLICK HERE.